New local restrictions, long testing lines and a rush for rapid antigen tests have added chaos to Australia's Christmas preparations as the Omicron variant piles pressure on the nation's healthcare system.
New South Wales today reported 5612 new cases of Covid-19, slightly down on yesterday's record-breaking 5715 cases. There are 382 Covid patients across the state's hospitals, including 53 in ICU.
Victoria recorded 2095 new cases and eight Covid deaths. There are 397 infected people in hospitals across the state, including 75 people in ICU.
In Queensland, 589 new infections were recorded today, more than triple Wednesday's figures. The state government had expected the spread of the Omicron variant to double the caseload every 48 hours, with chief health officer Dr John Gerrard forecasting thousands of cases a day in January.
Thousands of Australians in NSW face lengthy and frustrating waits as Covid testing lines expand, with Premier Dominic Perrottet even urging residents to avoid getting a test unless absolutely necessary.
"If you don't feel unwell, and you're not required to get tested by NSW Health, please don't, because your spot in the queue is taking the place or slowing down people who are sick, who are required by NSW Health to get tested," Perrottet said on Thursday. "But in addition to that, it also slows down our capacity to get that test result back."
Improved vaccination rates and reports of milder symptoms from the Omicron variant have so far kept a lid on hospitalisation rates, but NSW's health system faces a testing time to handle the predicted holiday surge in Covid cases.
A scramble for rapid antigen tests – as well as renewed venue and mask-wearing rules around the country – could also make that final trip to the shops interesting.
NSW, Victoria, and Western Australia on Thursday announced the reinstatement of density rules and mask requirements in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Masks must now be worn in indoor settings in NSW. QR code check-ins are also again mandatory in most settings. Hospitality venues must abide by density limits of one person per two square metres while indoors from December 27.
Western Australia has avoided going into a lockdown before Christmas, but masks will return after a man infected with Covid-19 visited multiple spots across Perth, including shops and nightclubs.
Victoria's Acting Premier James Merlino also announced on Thursday that masks would be required in all indoor settings, except homes, for people aged over 8.